Encyclopedia of Jazz Musicians

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Jones, Carmell (Carmell William Jones, Jr.)

Trumpeter Carmell Jones stepped out of the riff-based traditions of Kansas City swing into hard bop. Equally at home improvising at breakneck speeds as when playing poignant ballads or low-down, dirty blues, Jones balanced the harmonic adventurousness and phrasing of his generation with the soulful, swinging sensibilities of his hometown. Jones’s joyous bounce, wide vibrato, and steadfast commitment to the blues spoke of his Midwestern roots in an unmistakable sound.

In the early 1960s, Jones established himself as a legitimate new star trumpeter on the jazz scene through high profile gigs with Horace Silver, Gerald Wilson, Booker Ervin, a partnership with Harold Land, and a handful of critically praised albums under his own name. However, when he moved to Germany in 1965, he largely dropped off of the radar of American jazz fans and critics.

Carmell Jones

Carmell William Jones, Jr. was born to Carmell William Jones, Sr. and Stella Hannon Jones in Kansas City, Kansas on July 19, 1936. Both of his parents were teachers, and his father had been a professional drummer. He started piano lessons at age five and at seven he picked up the trumpet, much to the chagrin of his father, who had hoped his son would become a saxophonist.

He met saxophonist Nathan Davis at age seven, and would later attend both junior high and high school with him. The two played together in marching bands and began listening to and experimenting with jazz at an early age.

After high school, Jones joined the Air Force in 1954, spending four years in the 501st Air Force Band while stationed at Hickman Air Force Base in Hawaii. While in Hawaii, he also played with singer Billie Holiday and led his first quintet. After his discharge, he returned home to study music at Kansas University. After two years of college and sideman work with pianist Frank Smith and Eddie “Cleanhead” Vinson, Jones moved to Los Angeles in 1960 to pursue a professional music career.

Jones faired well as a studio musician in California, making recording dates with Sammy Davis, Jr., Bob Hope, and Nelson Riddle and performing with Frank Sinatra and Ella Fitzgerald, among others. He broke into small-group jazz as a member of Bud Shank’s quintet in 1961, performing at the Drift Inn in Malibu and recording on the saxophonist’s albums New Groove and Barefoot Adventure, the latter being a soundtrack to a surfing documentary.

Jones signed his own contract with Pacific Records as a leader in 1961. His earliest recordings show a fashionable Clifford Brown influence in his attractive, round sound, warming vibrato, and lengthy, fluid phrasing. His initial Pacific release, The Remarkable Carmell Jones was recorded in Los Angeles in June of 1961 and featured tenor saxophonist Harold Land, Frank Strazzeri on piano, Gary Peacock on bass, and drummer Leon Pettis. Jones contributed two originals to the set, the Blakey-inspired marching blues “Sad March,” and “Stellisa,” a touching ballad dedicated to his daughter.

Jones became an in-demand freelancer after the release of his first album, and kept busy enough to quit his day job as a railroad porter. He was a regular with Harold Rumsey’s Lighthouse All-Stars, played with Shelly Manne, Wes Montgomery, and also became a member Gerald Wilson’s orchestra. Jones is heard in Wilson’s seventeen-piece ensemble on You Better Believe It!, an album featured the organist Richard “Groove” Holmes. Jones is given solo space on “Straight Up and Down” and “Blues for Yna Yna.”

In October 1961, Jones recorded Hear Ye!!! Hear Ye!!! in a group co-led by Harold Land and bassist Red Mitchell. Rounded out again with Strazzeri and Pettis on piano and drums, respectively, this critically acclaimed yet under-recorded group recorded Jones’s urgent hard-bopper “Somara.”

Jones’s second album as a leader, Business Meetin’, was recorded and released in 1962, nearly ten months after his first. The album featured four tracks from Jones and Land’s quintet with Strazzeri, Peacock, and Donald Dean on drums, including Jones’s own “That’s Good” and “Hip Trolley.” The other four tracks showcased Jones augmented by a five-man saxophone section arranged by his employer, Gerald Wilson.

Wilson also arranged a trombone choir to back Jones and trombonist Laurence “Tricky” Lofton’s on their 1962 co-led album, Brass Bag. Jones played in the ensemble on Wilson’s Moment of Truth, recorded in August of 1962, and is also heard as a soloist on tracks like “Nancy Jo.”

Jones kept quite busy in 1963, performing on alto saxophonist Jimmy Woods’ Conflict, which featured an all-star lineup of sidemen Andrew Hill on piano, Harold Land on tenor, and Elvin Jones on drums, Booker Ervin’s Groovin’ High, Land’s Jazz Impressions of Folk Music, Gerald Wilson’s Portraits, and with Sarah Sings Soulfully with singers Sarah Vaughn, and Nancy Wilson's Yesterday’s Love Songs/Today’s Blues.

In 1964, Jones achieved what turned out to be the pinnacle of his stateside success as an American jazzman. Always fresh on the heels of young talent, drummer Art Blakey offered Jones a spot in the Jazz Messengers. However, Blakey’s old piano player, Horace Silver, was reorganizing his own group and had a strong interest in Jones as well.

Jones ultimately turned down Blakey’s offer and accepted Silver’s invitation, moving to New York City in the spring of 1964 to join the pianist’s group. On October 26, Silver’s quintet went into Rudy Van Gelder’s Englewood Cliffs studio and recorded “The Kicker,” “Que Pasa,” “The Natives are Restless Tonight,” and “Song for My Father.” Combined with two takes from an earlier session by Silver’s previous group, these four tracks completed what would become Silver’s most commercially and critically successful album, Song for My Father.

Jones’s superb playing on this hugely successful album solidified his reputation as a major new voice, and the Down Beat critics selected as the “New Star Trumpeter” in their annual poll. From his tenure in Silver’s quintet, Jones can also be heard on Horace Silver Live 1964,released on LP by Silver’s own label, Emerald Records, and the live Re-Entry, which was released on CD in 1996 by the 32 Jazz albel. In 1964 Jones also recorded Bebop Revisited! with Charles McPherson, as well as on Booker Ervin's The Blues Book and Herbie Mann's Latin Mann – Afro to Bossa to Blues.

On May 8 1965, Jones entered the studio with tenor saxophonist Jimmy Heath, Barry Harris on piano, bassist George Tucker, and his Silver bandmate Roger Humphries on drums to record a session under his own name for Prestige. The resulting album, Jay Hawk Talk, was Jones’s most thoroughly impressive and wide-ranging album to date. The rocking title track is a mid-1960s boogaloo jam that features solid blues playing by all. Jones navigates the up-tempo “What is This Thing Called Love?” admirably in a Brownie-esque manner and “Just in Time” highlights his some of his best melodic playing. “Dance of the Night Child” is a minor, Silver-inspired hard bopping original blues and “Beepdurple” is one of Jones’s strongest original compositions.

Jones left Silver’s group in June 1965 and was replaced by Woody Shaw. Accustomed to the west coast scene, Jones felt stifled in New York. He was also becoming disenchanted by life in the United States. After witnessing the tragic Watts Riots in Los Angeles in August 1965, Jones had had enough of the racial tension that plagued America at the time. Soon afterward, he fled for Europe, landing first in Germany to perform at the Stuttgart Jazz Festival with his childhood friend, saxophonist Nathan Davis.

German jazz critic Joachim Berendt, who had heard Jones in Kansas City years earlier, recommended that he stay in Germany to perform and record. The trumpeter consented, moved to Berlin, where he joined the SFB Big Band and Orchestra. SFB stands for “Sender Freies Berlin,” which means “Radio Free Berlin." Jones was contracted as a soloist, composer, arranger, and musical consultant. When the SFB groups were not touring, they recorded in the studio for eight hours a day.

In 1969, Prestige released Carmell Jones in Europe: 1965-66. Two of the six tracks were recorded live at the 1966 Frankfurt Jazz Festival with Leo Wright and Pony Poindexter on altos, Fritz Pauer on piano, vocalist Annie Ross, Andre Condouant on guitar, bassist Jimmy Woode, and drummer Joe Nay. The other four songs were taken from the same September 1, 1965 session that produced Nathan Davis’s The Hip Walk, featuring fellow expatriate Kenny Clarke on drums.

Jones became a star in Europe and would travel and perform throughout the continent until 1980, including trips to most Eastern Bloc countries. During his stay overseas he was consistently in high demand as a soloist; Jones was a member of Oliver Nelson’s Berlin Dream Band in 1970 and had an extended association with altoist Leo Wright. He also performed with many of the leading American jazz orchestras as they passed through Europe, including Quincy Jones, Don Ellis, and Stan Kenton. Jones led his own big band for a time, performed at most of the major European festivals, played with the Berlin Symphony, and composed for radio, TV, and movies.

Upon returning to the U.S. in June 1980, Jones settled in his hometown of Kansas City, Kansas, but found he had been largely forgotten by American jazz fans. Aside from a European tour with Ray Charles in July 1982, he remained in the U.S. for the rest of his career.

His final album as leader was recorded in Gainesville, FL in October 1982. Released in 1983 on the small Revelation Records, Carmell Jones Returns was an album of jam-session favorites, including “Now’s the Time,” “Billie’s Bounce,” and “Pent Up House.” Its release was limited and Jones’s homecoming was not nearly as celebrated as other expatriates’, but those lucky enough to hear him upon his return were graced with the sweet lyricism of a well-seasoned veteran.

While continuing to play locally in Kansas City, Jones taught trumpet, theory, arranging, composition, and general music at all levels in the 1980s and early 1990s, from elementary through high school. He taught at the Charlie Parker Center for the Arts in Kansas City and lectured at the University of Missouri and Penn Valley Community College.

Jones made his final recording with Kansas City tenor saxophonist Jim Mair in 1991 and retired from performing soon after. He died on November 7, 1996 at the age of 60.


As a leader:

The Remarkable Carmell Jones (1961)

Business Meetin’ (1962)

Brass Bag (1962)

Jay Hawk Talk (1965)

Carmell Jones in Europe (1969)

Carmell Jones Returns (1982)

As a sideman:

Barefoot Adventure (Bud Shank, 1961)

New Groove (Bud Shank, 1961)

Hear Ye! (Red Mitchell and Harold Land, 1961)

Moment of Truth (Gerald Wilson, 1962)

Conflict (Jimmy Woods, 1963)

Groovin’ High (Booker Ervin, 1963)

Jazz Impressions of Folk Music (Harold Land, 1963)

Sarah Sings Soulfully (Sarah Vaughn, 1963)

Yesterday’s Love Songs/Today’s Blues (Nancy Wilson, 1963)

Blues Book (Booker Ervin, 1964)

Song for My Father (Horace Silver, 1964)

Re-Entry (Horace Silver, 1965)

Latin Mann (Herbie Mann, 1965)

The Hip Walk (Nathan Davis, 1965)

More Than Meets the Ear (Jean-Luc Ponty, 1969)

Contributor: Matt Leskovic